Meet Jack Molan, A Sea Captain Who’s Seen it All!

Capt. Jack

Have you heard of “The Deadliest Catch” TV show, where fishing crews risk their lives in angry seas to bring fish to our tables? Captain Jack Molan wasn’t on the show, but he’s been captain of some of the show’s vessels and other boats. He knows what it’s like to get caught in a storm in freezing waters and wonder if he’ll get his crew out alive.

With his special brand of leadership that unifies crews, in ten short stories, Capt. Jack shares his adventures in ferocious storms in the book he released in mid-September.

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: My Thirty Years in the Bering Sea

Below, with permission, I posted the story he wrote about how tenacity got him the job that would threaten his life at times, but he would truly find his passion. Enjoy!

 

LIFE AT SEA

 

At age thirteen, my mom walked me onto the train in Sacramento, California. “Say, ‘Hi’ to Grandma and Grandpa and my sister,” she said and gave me a quick kiss.

This photo of Union Station is courtesy of TripAdvisor

At Union Station in Portland, I found my grandparents waiting for me. Grandpa shook my hand as Grandma said, “You’d
like to worry me sick, Jack Molan.”  Then she smothered me in hugs.

From the train station, they took me to a Greyhound bound for Seaside, Oregon. In two hours, I got off the bus and inhaled the salt air. My pulse picked up in anticipation. Soon I would see what I came for.

My auntie pulled to the curb in a huge Pontiac LeMans. “Oh, I’m so glad you came to stay with us,” she said, but I didn’t plan to spend much time at her house. Each day, on her way to work, she’d drop me with a sack lunch at my true destination. I’d come to hang out at the south end of Seaside, at the cove where I could watch the surfers ride the waves.

I stood on a boulder the size of a small car, spellbound, after hiking a mile over slick, smooth rocks to Second Point. Spindrift blew off waves two stories high that roared past me like locomotives. The white water exploded like bombs going off, the rocky shoreline rumbling under my feet. Smooth, gray faces pitched in perfect peeling curls. I knew this place would someday either give me the ride of my life or a horrible drowning.

Ancient spruce and fir trees formed a lush green wall behind me. Brilliant white seagulls skimmed the water’s surface, not for food but to play in the rainbow of refracted light in the spray, out-running the thundering breakers. The pulsing ocean both frightened and thrilled me.

“I’ll be a surfer and live by the ocean,” I swore on the rock that day.

By the time I graduated from high school, our family had moved to Tacoma Washington. I left my home in Tacoma at seventeen and moved to Seaside, Oregon. Initially, I flopped on Auntie’s couch but quickly landed a restaurant job. Within a few weeks, I bought a Mercury Comet for a hundred bucks and rented a room in a small beach house with a couple of surfers. A job came up at a fish cannery, so I left the restaurant to work on a clean-up crew.

The slimy, smelly job paid better than dish washing, but the night shift is what I valued most. When I got off work, I could jump in my Comet and go hit the waves. I never once considered college. “I can go to school if there’s something I want to learn,” I would say when people asked about my plans for the future.

At the cannery dock one day, I helped offload a shrimp boat, breaking up the ice and scooping out pink crustaceans with my white plastic shovel. Buzz, a deck hand, sat nearby on a wooden crate against the railing, smoking his Camel non-filters and bragged: “I made twelve hundred bucks this week.”

“What?” I stopped shoveling and squinted into the sun at him. “You made that much in a week?”

“Oh, yeah. It’s been rocking. I’ll bank thirty grand by the end of the season.” He took a long drag on his cancer stick. “I just have to stay out of the bar.”

I’d busted my butt working overtime that week and earned a quarter of what he made in three days. “So, Buzz, what do you do all winter?”

“Ah, the guys with families fish dungy crabs, but I go to Mexico—six months on, six months off.”

I leaned on my shovel, dumbfounded. I’d just found the brass ring. Money and time—time and money. I wanted both. That summer, I turned twenty-one and decided my next job would be on a fishing boat.

When the surf was flat, I walked the docks looking for an opening. One day, I met a captain whose boat reflected his pride. The decks smelled of bleach from a recent wash-down. The ropes were hung up, the nets stacked neatly, and the fishing gear organized. His crew was painting deck boards, joking and laughing as they worked. I knew this boat had a reputation as a top producer and was thrilled the captain would talk to me.

“We don’t need anyone. I’ve had the same guys for years.” The captain pointed across the marina to a derelict scow that had rust stains running down the side of the hull, paint peeling off the wheelhouse, and a crew in filthy clothes. “That pile of crap is looking for help, but be careful, kid. I know you’re hungry for work, but don’t do it. Good boats rarely need help, and bad boats always need help. That boat is a widow maker.”

His advice probably saved my life, more than once. I still quote him when young people on the docks ask me about work.

Later that summer, my big break came. I got hired on Pegasus, a brand-new shrimp trawler. The shiny blue hull and spotless gray decks made the boat a real standout—queen of the Astoria fleet. As a greenhorn, I made less, but I couldn’t care less. I had a job on an awesome new boat.

I worked hard, jumping to do things the out-of-shape deck boss avoided. At twice my age, he’d been passed over as skipper. He felt he should be in the wheelhouse, not on deck, and sometimes he took out his frustration on me. I ran up ladders and crawled out in the rigging to untangle knotted lines. I hopped in the hold and waded through waist-deep ice, stacking fish. Nothing stopped me. I asked endless questions about nets, cable rigging, diesel engines, the shrimp we were catching, the weather, other boats, and how to navigate. The grizzled deck boss started calling me “Grasshopper”, referring to the character who always asked the master questions in “Kung Fu”, a popular TV show at the time—and the nickname stuck.

That fall, when fishing season ended, a rusty Chevy Impala, stacked with new bright orange, red, and yellow Lightning Bolt surfboards from Hawaii, pulled into the surfers’ parking lot. I met the owner, David, who had a wide grin and an infectious laugh. At the campfire that evening, long after the others had left, David and I sat on a big driftwood log, still in our wetsuits, and I marveled at his tales of king crab fishing in the Bering Sea.

“We don’t sleep, and the weather is insane. Boats stacked high with crab pots roll over, and big waves punch in their windows. If you live, you make big bucks,” he told me. “I’m leaving to surf in France in a few days. In January, I gotta be back in Seattle to fly to Alaska to fish on the Royal Viking. The crew made a hundred ten grand on deck last year.”

And I thought: I could buy a house in Seaside for forty-thousand.

When spring came, I saw David in a local restaurant. “Hey, you want to come see my new house?” he asked with that giant grin of his.

I followed him through deep green rainforest where big older homes dot the coastline. David had bought five acres on the Tillamook Head sea cliffs, overlooking the best surf spot in Oregon.

“I take off for Dutch Harbor, Alaska in a few days,” he said, gazing out at the ocean. “Should only take a couple years to pay this off.”

“Take me king crabbing,” I said. “I’m ready anytime.”

David laughed. “You can try Seattle, but no one I know is quitting or hiring.”

I was determined to land a job on a king crab boat. My chances may have been slim, but I paid eight-hundred dollars for a ‘66 VW Bus and took many two-hundred-mile trips from Seaside to Ballard, near Seattle, Washington, where the Alaska crab fleet docked in the offseason. Sleeping in my bus at night, I spent the daylight hours walking the docks, using all the charm and energy I could muster to get a job, but no one would talk to me.

One evening, after a long day shoveling shrimp on the Pegasus, I stopped by my auntie’s for spaghetti dinner. “Oh, honey, some guy named David called,” she said as she passed the salad bowl. “He sounds like a fun guy. He left his number.”

I sprang from the table and grabbed the phone.

“Hey, Jack, I just got a job on a new 123-foot Marco king crab boat, so new, it’s not even built yet, and I’ll be captain,” David told me. “It’s named Columbia.”

“Oh, wow,” I said. “That’s awesome!”

“You told me you wanted to go king crabbing. Were you serious?”

I swallowed hard. “Ah, yeah, absolutely!”

“You need a day or two to think about it?”

“I just thought about it. I’ll go.”

He chuckled. “Good. You’re my only greenhorn. You’ll make less money, but you can work up to full share.”

I was so stoked, I’d have gone for free.

Wife, Joanne, on the beach

Joanne and I had fallen in love, but I needed a real job before I could marry her. “He’s a surfer and a fisherman,” she’d tell her friends. One calm evening as we walked the docks she told me, “Fishing is an honorable way to make a living.” And she had my heart.

My Scandinavian beauty has a strong adventurous spirit, and she looked forward to the fisherman’s life. After my first king crab season, we were married. I had just turned twenty-five, and she was twenty-six.

Joanne loved to come to Alaska with me. We spent months on the Columbia exploring much of the state waters, chasing salmon runs. She cooked for a small crew and took watches. Each summer, we’d venture together, taking in the beauty and magnificence of the Alaskan coastline in a storybook romance.

After three years, many thought Joanne would choose to stay home when our son arrived. “Having a kid isn’t going to slow me down,” she would tell people.

The next summer, she stepped off the plane and strolled over the gravel walkway in Dutch Harbor with our eight-month-old strapped to her back. Aboard the Columbia, our son traveled up and down the inside passage as well as crossed the Bering Sea and northern Pacific Ocean. To prepare meals in the galley, Joanne carried Gustav in his baby backpack. Gus’s favorite game was to be put in the walker, hold up his hands, and giggle with joy as he scooted across the room, banging into walls as the boat rolled. The salmon fishing fleet learned we had a baby onboard, and soon we had fishermen coming to hang out with us and our little boy.

But in the next few years, we had two little girls as well. Joanne decided to stay home with our children in Cannon Beach, Oregon. We had a home built there that her father designed, using cash along the way to pay for materials and labor.

The Columbia, Jack’s first boat as captain

Seven years after David hired me, I became captain of the Columbia. I knew I was made for the position, but the job required me to be away from home for ten months of the year. After so many months away, I worried our son and two younger daughters wouldn’t remember who I was. The thought tore me up. I was good at my job, but I had to prioritize my family.

Gratefully, the boat owners and managers arranged for me to rotate with another captain. I worked two months on and two months off. My original idea to fish, make a good living, and have time off became a reality.

When Gus, our oldest, was eight years old, Joanne and I decided he needed more time with me. Toward the end of third grade, we pulled him from school, so I could take him to Alaska. The school district and some of Joanne’s friends thought we were crazy. “What better thing could a boy do than be with his dad?” Joanne would ask.

Gus was a natural. He loved everything about the fishing life. He learned navigation using paper and electronic charts. He hung with the crew splicing lines and mending nets. He helped scrub the deck, including scraping and painting the bleeding rust. Keeping track of other boats’ movements with me intrigued him. Watching whales and sea-lions thrilled him. Catching huge numbers of fish excited him. He enjoyed everything about those first four months, and every summer afterwards, he begged me to take him to the Bering Sea.

When our daughters were younger, Joanne sent them to cousins’ houses in California. The girls bonded with their relatives while Joanne ventured north for a few weeks in the summers, cooking for the crew and spending time on the Columbia with Gus and me.

Bristol Bay gillnet near the Ugashik River. Credit: Carl Johnson (pewtrusts.org/bristolbay) (PRNewsFoto/The Pew Charitable Trusts)

At thirteen, Gus began gill-netting salmon in Bristol Bay and continued throughout his high school years. When Gus went off to college, he felt trapped and emailed: “Dad, I seriously don’t know what I’m doing here. I just talked to one of my professors, and I make more money than he does.”

I wrote back: “Son, the option to return to fishing is always open. Try to hang in there and finish college.”

Gus did graduate from college. He even got a job on land—and only lasted six months. Gus returned to fishing as a deck boss on a large trawler. Within five years, he earned his master’s license and became an alternate captain on a Bering Sea trawler. (FYI: Gus is the guy pounding the ice on the book cover.)

Our middle child, Ahna, at twenty years old, worked a salmon season on land in Bristol Bay. During the summer months, the office in the town of Naknek is the center of the salmon universe. She helped fishermen with housing, meal tickets, fishing licenses, and travel arrangements. I could call her on the radio and get fish reports, and though I couldn’t visit her, knowing she was close was somehow comforting.

 

Jack, Joanne, daughter Kirdy

Our youngest daughter, Kirsten, first came to Alaska the summer she turned seventeen. She worked in the galley by herself on the Columbia, keeping us all fed. Kirdy also grew into being a good tendering deckhand, offloading the smaller gill-net boats’ salmon into our large holds. She adapted quickly to sea life and became a favorite of the fishermen delivering their catch. I noticed longer lines at our boat as the Columbia provided the only opportunity to exchange a few words with a cute blonde on deck. A few years later, she worked onshore in Naknek at the “egg house” boxing up salmon eggs, spending sixteen-hour-days on her feet. She met some great kids but seemed happy    when the season ended.

After Joanne cooked on the Columbia for twenty-five or more seasons, she joined me aboard a 115-foot Arctic research vessel, the Norseman II, a completely different boat and geographical area for us both. The Arctic was a place I’d always wanted to experience, and I knew the vessel and its owners.

A converted king crabber, the boat housed up to thirty individuals. Two cooks alternated twelve hours on, twelve off. They fed thirty people three meals a day, prepared an additional midnight meal, plus they baked bread, cookies, and made ice cream. The job was hard work, but Joanne loved it.

Norseman II, science vessel

Together, we enjoyed watching ice floes, walrus, polar bear, and whales. I piloted the Norseman II from Point Barrow, the most northerly town in Alaska, east into Canadian waters. We skirted the Russia/United States border for days, maneuvering through the ice. I took the boat four hundred miles above the Arctic Circle, a thousand miles north of Dutch Harbor, into seldom traveled territory, completely new to us.

Joanne’s job was physically demanding, but I dealt with the weight of responsibility for keeping the scientists and crew safe. With endless foggy days and ice floes constantly changing, shifting, stopping, and rotating, I’d monitor ice movement from satellite reports, aerial searches, and a few scant ships’ reports. With daylight 24/7, we worked around the clock. I couldn’t escape the exhausting mental exertion of monitoring and navigating to reach our destinations without getting stuck in the ice, nor could I relax my vigilance. After the two-month season, I felt like the stuffing had been knocked out of me.

Still, Joanne and I committed to a few more summers on the Norseman II. Our final season, our youngest daughter, Kirsten, signed on with us. Joanne and Kirdy both cooked amazing, delicious food for the thirty people aboard the research vessel. Kirdy started in the galley at seven in the evening to relieve Joanne and clean up the dinner dishes. When Joanne came on at seven in the morning, she’d clean up the breakfast dishes and begin preparing lunch. Day after day, no darkness, endless work. In 2016, we declined the offer to run the Norseman II for another summer season.

Nowadays, Gus fishes pollock in the Bering Sea, he’s married, has two children, and they live a mile from Joanne and me in Bend, Oregon. Both Ahna and Kirdy have since moved on to other careers. Ahna lives in Los Angeles, has a job in marketing, and is married to Zach, a cinematographer. Kirdy is a director for kids’ camps in Bend, Oregon and is a gifted video editor, although she is tempted to go back to the sea.

In 2016, instead of the research vessel, I chose to run TV’s world famous “Deadliest Catch” vessel, the Cornelia Marie, from Seattle to Alaska for salmon tendering season. Casey and Josh, the regular captains, wanted to take off the summer months, and I looked forward to beautiful bays full of salmon with Joanne in the galley, rather than dodging treacherous ice floes. But running a famous boat for a season is a story in itself. I recently received a call from Sig Hansen to run his boat, the famous captain of the Northwestern, also a vessel on the “Deadliest Catch” TV show.

“I’d love to help, Sig,” I said. “But I’m committed to speaking on the Princess Cruise ships.”

“Are you kidding me?” He laughed. “Oh man, why would you want to do that?”

I’ll always think fondly of those thirty years as a Bering Sea captain. Recently, though, I’ve chosen a different path, writing and speaking, so others may benefit from my years bouncing around on the ocean, both literally and figuratively.

For now…

If you’d like to read more, you can get the book here.

About the book, one review said:

A compelling read and an unbeatable introduction to the reason servant leadership pays off in high stakes situations. Captain Molan protected his crews, and they performed for him. Everyone did well. This is a book for every manager and business school student. It represents a cool and competent approach to success in an uncertain, high risk, high reward landscape. The only disappointment was reaching the end of this book. The hope is that more of the same is in the offing.

And there are 90-some other 5-star reviews to choose from!

Captain Jack is one of my editing/coaching clients, and he’s been a blast to work with!

Check out his social media sites. He offers free amazing photos of things like bald eagles flying in the wild and lots of other goodies.

www.https://jackmolan.com

https://www.facebook.com/JackMolanPhotography/

 

We love comments! If you’d like to let us know what you thought of the story, please leave a message in the field below. Do you have a personal story to tell?

The Decision that Made LadyDice an Up-and-Coming Hip Hop Star

fcae31d3-71bd-4212-b3ff-5fa9ceb014ddA few short years ago, singer LadyDice, weighed 275 pounds, had never written a song, and suffered from debilitating stage fright. It took an honest, painful look inside herself to break through the obstacles keeping her from her dreams.

 
Growing up in Southern California with her biological father, a mentally and physically abusive addict, she remembers sitting in the courtroom with her mom and dad fighting over who would get custody of her and her sisters. LadyDice’s home life improved after her mom won the custody battle and eventually married a wonderful man.

 
But the damage from those early years had been done.

 
And understanding the source of her self-destructive behavior wouldn’t come until much later.

 
Hitting bottom either kills you or makes you stronger, and LadyDice chose to use that dark, desperate place as her springboard to recreate her life.

“I decided I was ready to become who I always wanted to be,” she says.

Being overweight had always plagued her with self-doubt; that is, until she got serious and dropped 120 pounds.

LadyDice three years ago, before and after she lost 120 pounds.
LadyDice before and after she lost 120 pounds.

“I wish I could give some miracle answer [for how I lost all that weight and have kept it off], but it was just discipline. I LOOOVE food,” she admits, “so I had to figure out yummy ways to stay satisfied. After I got that down, it was easy.”

In a similar way, LadyDice faced her fear of the limelight by forcing her feet onto the stage for the first time three years ago. She’d always wanted to sing, to be heard. No one would stop her, least of all herself. The dreaded shakes and queasiness she’d avoided for so long gave way to joy as her amplified voice filled the room, and the audience moved to the beat. Since then, she has performed in all kinds of venues in several states.

“I pushed myself for almost 2 years, and now I’m doing shows all over the place. I am a model and pursuing my dream in music!!” she exclaims. “You just have to find the belief in yourself.”

12088272_881154771968703_200476865479206303_nLadyDice has discovered her true friends in going after her dream of becoming a hip hop star.

“It’s amazing to see the people who step up and support your career and the ones who don’t,” she confides. “There’s been a lot of good and bad on my journey so far, but the good is definitely starting to outweigh the bad. I’m grateful.”

 

The single mom of a 4-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son, LadyDice finds juggling motherhood and her career challenging at times. “It’s really hard having to be gone and them not understanding why Mommy isn’t home,” she says. Still, her preschoolers root for her success. They love to see her perform on stage, and they sing along and dance to her CDs. Hearing about her travels to faraway places excites them, and LadyDice works hard to be present for her children when she’s home. “Honestly, this is an obstacle I haven’t overcome quite yet,” she acknowledges, “but I believe I’m finding a balance.”

 

Recently, LadyDice left her home in Oregon for a few days to be there for someone else’s little girl in Idaho. Ten-year-old Sophia has struggled with leukemia since birth, and although the treatments have gotten her cancer under control, her kidneys are failing due to the frequent processing of harsh chemicals from chemotherapy. Sophia loves LadyDice’s hip hop, tough-girl music, so her mother contacted LadyDice to set up a meeting to take Sophia’s mind off dialysis and waiting for a new kidney. LadyDice invited Sophia to her recording studio where they experienced a bond neither will ever forget. Not only did they have a great time getting to know each other, Sophia got to see LadyDice record Rachael Platten’s “Fight Song” to accompany Sophia’s video to help raise money to cover medical costs on GoFundMe.com.

 

 

Soon LadyDice will be hearing whether she’ll be opening for a big name act. Fingers crossed. (I’ll let you know the details if this opportunity comes through for her).

In the meantime, here are LadyDice’s five steps for reaching your dreams and goals:

  1. Realize no one is going to do it for you; the only one who can change you is you.
  2. Make a decision and stick with it, consistency is key.
  3. Believe in yourself. Even if there is a long road ahead of you, you absolutely CAN do it.
  4. You will fall over and over again, but you can always get back up and keep going. I refuse to quit until I get where I want to be! We should ALL strive for that within ourselves.
  5. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it. This world is ugly, and there will always be people who root for you to fail. You have to know your own worth. None of the other stuff matters.

 

Thanks, LadyDice, for taking the time for this interview. You definitely get our “Tenacity to Triumph” philosophy. You’re a fellow bad ass to the core.
Write questions or comments for LadyDice below, and help her realize her dreams by sharing this post!

My Hero! Sharon Cooper, Successful Self-Published Author, is at it Again!

sharon-author-2012My friend, Sharon Cooper, just released her lasted book. You may recall other posts I’ve written about her amazing entrepreneurship as a novelist. She’s made more money self-publishing her work and has had a much more fulfilling career than in her experience of working with a subsidiary of Harlequin. If you like a mixture of action adventure and romance, you’d love Sharon’s books! I’m re-posting her blog post below.

New Release – Operation Midnight!

Hi All!

t’s release day! Woo hoo! OPERATION MIDNIGHT, book 4 of the Reunited Series is now available for your reading pleasure! This is Wiz and Olivia’s story.

Midnight 800x533

You remember them right? Wiz is the computer guru who has helped some of his Navy SEAL brothers (Quinn and Malik) get their women out of some harrowing situations. And something you probably didn’t know – when Tyler (from Blue Roses) called on Quinn’s help to dig into Dallas’s background, guess who Quinn called. You got it – Wiz!

As for Olivia, she first made her appearance in Rendezvous with Danger (Quinn & Alandra’s story) when the guys (and Alandra) took a trip to D.C. and stayed at Olivia’s townhouse. She had a bigger role in Truth or Consequences (Malik & Natasha’s story) where she befriended Natasha, argued with Malik about calling her Ollie, and when she and Wiz announced that they were getting remarried.

Well, in OPERATION MIDNIGHT, we get to learn more about Wiz and Olivia – their life together before their divorce, as well as how they never stopped loving each other. We’ll journey with them through some trying times as they leap over a few more hurdles in their race to say “I do” one last time.

Blurb:

No bad deed goes unpunished

Former Navy SEAL turned private investigator, Cameron “Wiz” Miller, has loved only one woman, his ex-wife, Olivia. She’s beautiful, talented and the sweetest person he knows. With plans to remarry her, there is nothing she could ask of him that he wouldn’t do except … one thing.

Olivia has loved Wiz since high school. He is her hero. Her protector. She understands his hesitation to search for the woman who left her for dead. Forgiveness has been a long time coming, but Olivia has made peace with what happened. Wiz hasn’t. For him, forgiveness is not an option.

But the sins of the past have come back to haunt Wiz, placing Olivia in danger. He must tap into his military training and every alliance he has formed over the years to save her. But is it too late? Will he and Olivia ever get that happily-ever-after?

Excerpt:

I want you to find my sister.

Wiz stormed into the living room and snatched his pants from one of the chairs. His heart thumped wildly at the words he thought he would never hear. He couldn’t wrap his head around her request. Clearly she had forgotten about all the crap her sister had done.

“It’s like suddenly I don’t even know you.” Olivia’s voice broke into his thoughts when she silently entered the room.

Wiz shook his head and stepped into his slacks, keeping his back to her. “You know me. You know me well enough to understand that I would rather swallow a grenade than to have your sister in our lives.”

She sighed loudly. “Cameron, I didn’t say I want her in our lives. I’d like to connect with her for nothing more than a conversation.”

Fastening his pants, he glanced over his shoulder to find her standing near the bedroom door. The satiny red robe she wore stopped just above her knees, the color bringing out the warmth in her smooth, dark chocolate skin. His breath hitched as his gaze drifted slowly down her shapely body emphasized by the sash cinched tightly around her narrow waist. Damn if a certain part of his anatomy didn’t spring to attention. He knew what lay beneath the thin material. He knew how soft every inch of her skin was to the touch. And he knew that if he stayed in that room much longer, he would tell her whatever the heck she wanted to hear. Everything but the truth that is.

His gaze moved back up to her face and his heart leapt into his throat. The love radiating in her eyes, even after the way he had spoken to her made the vice around his heart tighten even more. He felt like crap for denying her of her request.

Damn Keisha. Even when she wasn’t around, she was still wreaking havoc. Just the thought of her made him want to rip something apart. But then there was Olivia. Staring at her now, the unyielding love he had for her made him want to take the three short steps it would take to reach her, and pull her into his arms. He wanted to come clean and tell her what happened to her sister all those years ago. But the bastard in him stayed rooted in place because he had vowed to take that one secret to his grave.

Copyright © 2015 by Sharon C. Cooper

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OPERATION MIDNIGHT (ebook) is currently only $2.99! It won’t be available at this price for long.

So get your copy today!     Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Smashwords

Note: In paperback soon!

I’m so proud of Sharon! I’m not usually a romance reader, but her books are always a blast to read. If you snap up Operation Midnight and find a cozy spot for some reading recreation, enjoy the ride!

I’ll talk to you soon, especially since I’m planning to write an article about another friend who recently released an amazing memoir you won’t believe.

Until next week…

(Posts will come more frequently since my husband and I have finally settled in a bit after moving from San Diego, California to Bend, Oregon)

Trish Wilkinson

Donna’s Tough Road Led Her to 8 Keys For a Great Life

Donna

Donna May grew up in a happy home in Saint Louis, but as an adult, she got mixed up in an abusive relationship. One fateful night, injured, hysterical and crying, Donna ran her car into her abuser while trying to flee. He’d told her if she ever hurt him, she better kill him, so she wheeled around and ran him over.

Except the body on the street turned out to be her violent lover’s friend.

Donna was charged with second-degree murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison. On December 19, 1990 she entered the Department of Corrections, and her two daughters went to live with her parents.

While incarcerated, determined to make a better life when she got out, she took classes from Lincoln University to add to the 18 credit hours she’d earned from St. Louis Community College at Forest Parks. In the meantime, her father passed away in July, 1996 and then her mother in January, 1997.  Adding to the crushing grief of losing her parents, she worried for her children who had been in their care, but her family came through. Her oldest daughter, then 17, went to live with Donna’s grandmother, and her younger daughter, 14, moved in with Donna’s cousin.

In 1998 after being denied parole, another offender asked if Donna would share her background with a visitor involved in a law school working on behalf of people who were incarcerated for killing their abuser. Though Donna’s situation was unique, a student and professor took her case, speaking on her behalf at a parole hearing in 2000. The board granted her a two-year release date, and she arrived at Saint Mary’s Honor Center on August 22, 2002.

Donna and her daughters, now ages 23 and 19, eagerly got to know each other again, making family unification quite easy. It became Donna’s habit to go to church with her Aunt Jenny, and one Sunday, a member of the congregation encouraged her to visit a group meeting at a coffee shop. She loves coffee, so she attended and found herself in a “judge-free zone”. There she learned about the Dress for Success.

Dress for Success fitted her for a suit the following week in 2002, a suit that she still has today.DFS_Midwest-web

Though Donna knew the Center for Women in Transition (CWIT) only accepted non-violent offenders, she submitted an application anywaylogo-side-gold3b while still incarcerated. In talking to Barbara Baker at CWIT, Donna explained the steps she’d taken to create a better life; her college classes, becoming an effective computer coder for the Department of Corrections, how she had become reacquainted with her faith in God – and Ms. Baker accepted Donna to the program.

With a criminal record, Donna couldn’t get a job in computers, so she took a position working for a cranky boss at a thrift store making $5.15 an hour. During that time she attended weekly Let’s Start meetings, a letsstart_logosupport group for women, and monthly CWIT gatherings to set goals and work with a mentor. She came to understand she had choices, so Donna walked off the job at the thrift store when she decided her boss had berated her for the last time. That same day, she got hired at McDonald’s for $6.00 an hour – which meant she got a raise.

Donna left Saint Mary’s October 2002 and moved in with Aunt Jenny, and continued to improve her life. As a mentee with CWIT, she got health coverage and a therapist. With the help of her therapist and support from CWIT, through Vocational Rehabilitation she was able to attend Vatterott College for a year where she earned a certificate of competence with Microsoft Office. But it was also during this time, in 2003, that her aunt passed away. CWIT paid for Donna’s deposit and first month’s rent, so she could move into her own apartment.

Donna took a position working for The Women’s Safe House, an emergency shelter for abused women and their children, while she completed classes for her Associate of Arts degree in business at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park. By then, she had completed the mentee program at CWIT, but she remained active by attending monthly gatherings.

In 2004, she became a customer service representative earning $10 an hour, the most she’d earned since returning home, where she stayed until the call center closed in March, 2006. In May, she graduated with her AA, but hard as she tried, she couldn’t find a job. Then she got a message on her phone to call CWIT.

“Hello, Donna,” said the director. “We have a job for you if you would like it.”

“God hears and answers prayers,” Donna says. “I could not believe it…as if the path to my future began with becoming a mentee [at CWIT] in 2002.”

The next day, June 7, 2006, Donna went to the CWIT office where she became the Administrative Assistant. By March, 2007, she was askedLogoNewBanner2 CWIT to be a Lead Case Manager. She had no idea what that meant, but she accepted the position – and the pay increase. In working with clients, women adjusting to life outside of prison, Donna had already enrolled in the University of Missouri-St Louis School of Social Work because she felt she needed more education. In addition, once Donna was released from parole in 2009, she became a mentor at CWIT, helping other formerly incarcerated women to set goals and take steps toward recreating their lives.

Despite her history, Donna also took a leap of faith in 2009 and applied for the Payroll Specialist position at CWIT.

She told Executive Director, Nancy Kelly, “…given the opportunity, I know I can learn [Quick Books] and be successful in this position.”

“Donna May,” Nancy said, “I am confident that whatever position I place you in, you will succeed.”

Those powerful words have helped to fuel Donna’s belief in herself ever since.

She remained the Payroll Specialist at CWIT until May, 2010 when she left for a paid practicum position in social work. Due to receive her bachelor’s degree, Donna recognized that effectively supporting people in navigating their complicated lives would require more training. She wanted to apply for graduate school, but writing the required essay terrified her.

“I never chose social work,” her story began, “social work chose me because of the challenges that I have come face-to-face with in my life…”

In August 2011, Donna started her journey in grad school and was able to perform her practicum in private practice where she learned a greatDonna's MSW deal about diagnoses and barriers for those with mental illness. Sadly, after she graduated with her MSW in December 2013, again she struggled to find a job.

logo-connections-to-success-cRejection after rejection, Donna kept reaching out until she eventually applied for a position with Connections to Success, an organization working to break the cycle of poverty with hope, resources and a plan. During her interview in April, 2013, she wore the same suit that had been assembled for her at Dress for Success back in 2002.

The program director hired Donna as a Life Transformation Coach, the perfect position for someone who had been a mentee and spent several years mentoring others at the Center for Women in Transition. Donna knew how to support people’s decisions and goals as well as help them to see what’s possible.

Less than a year later, Donna was promoted to Life Transformation Coaching Manager, and by April 2014, she shared a dual role as Program Director. Today, Donna oversees the database as the Fidelity and Compliance Manager at Connections for Success. She also works with the Restorative Justice Committee on the Board of Directors for The Center for Women in Transition. 

And she makes people’s lives better every day.

Donna’s 8 Keys to a Great Life:
  1. God hears and answers prayers.
  2. We’re never stuck; we have choices.
  3. Past mistakes are in the past; focus on the future.
  4. Learn to think of yourself and present yourself in a positive light.
  5. Never let others define who you are.
  6. Never allow anyone to tell you what you can’t do.
  7. If you are ever in an abusive situation, please call for help. (ALIVE is a great resource, and there will be several others in your community.)
  8. Most important, follow Norman Peale’s advice: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
Which of Donna’s keys have you found helpful on your life’s journey?

Jade Edwards: From Abuse to Belief – In Herself

Focusing on the Simplest Positives Can Get You through Anything

Jade Edwards
Jade Edwards

I am the oldest of three children and often feel like a mother to my brother and sister, even to this day. My mom and dad had a very physically and emotionally abusive relationship, with life-threatening and hospital-inducing fights for as far back as I can remember. There was always some combination of bruises, broken bones, tears, screams, secrets, and fear at home. As little kids, we would hide under the bed, behind the couch, or stay outside during these fights when we could. Sometimes we weren’t lucky enough to find a hiding place. Being the oldest child of abusive parents, I grew up extremely quickly, sheltering the youngest sibling, my sister, as much as possible. Unfortunately, my brother was beaten by both my mom and dad, while I suffered emotional abuse.

 

 

I found refuge in books. On weekends, you could find me sitting in a FROMWHOMTHEBELLTOLLSgrassy, sunny backyard reading classic novels and poetry. On the Internet, I found a Harvard reading list and checked out those books from the library. If I ever had extra money from doing chores for neighbors or babysitting, I would buy books from bookstores. Even as a little kid, I loved Charlotte Bronte, Ernest Hemingway, and Emily Dickinson. I am so grateful for those times when I had access to books, small escapes from pandemonium.

 

By age nine, I had changed schools every single grade – constantly starting over in a confusing and overwhelming environment. The summer of my ninth year, my dad committed suicide, and my mom remarried two weeks later. We moved from Georgia to California, where I entered fifth grade. Starting then, I became largely responsible for raising my brother and sister in the midst of malfunction and adversity. My mom was no longer reliably present in our lives, so I learned the daily tasks of how to prepare meals, find transportation to school, and help my brother and sister with tutoring and homework.

 

A very tortured kid, I had a difficult time making friends, had a poor memory, was always in bad health, and was suffering from a major depressive episode without anyone to talk to. Fortunately, my new fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Richards, took an interest in me and changed my life. I became extremely active in school and maintained straight As without any help at home, all the way through middle school.

 

But the work became more difficult in high school, and although I wanted to go to college, I had no guidance or support. My mom quit school after the eighth grade. She had also fallen into alcoholism and drug addiction, divorcing her third husband and making extremely poor decisions in dating. There were too many new men around, too much chaos.

“My biggest obstacle in high school was learning how and when to get help.”

When I left the classroom at the end of the day and on weekends, I had few tools for success and thought the smallest challenges were impossible. I often did not have computer access, transportation, or even a safe place to sleep. I thought everyone had problems like mine, and my biggest obstacle was learning who to ask and how to get help. Desperate to earn the grades I had been used to, I confided in my tenth grade humanities teacher, Mr. Coulsby. He guided me to sources and people who could support me in getting the things I needed, and I began to develop and grow.

 

jayd_graduationI graduated from high school with honors and earned a Bachelor’s degree at University of California, San Diego, yet I still didn’t know what I wanted to do for a living. I’d worked so hard, and it took me longer than the prescribed four years to get my BA since I always had to hold down a job in addition to my studies. Internships, field trips, listening to speakers from various professions; nothing seemed to help me figure out what career I wanted to pursue.

 

Then I received an undergraduate scholarship from the national McNair Scholars Program for low-income, first generation college students. The scholarship enabled me to work as a research assistant in a developmental neuroscience lab with a stipend to perform my own research. I think this was the first time I found something I loved and knew exactly what to work towards. I love studying the brain and how its experience changes as it interacts with the environment.

 

Currently, I am working as a K-12 substitute teacher, and I just got accepted to the master’s program for psychology at California State University, San Marcos where I’ll be studying social cognition in children. Since it took me slightly longer to discover my academic and professional interests, I’ll be a little older than the average master’s student, but my personal drive has been my faithful constant. I often have to remind myself not to compare my progress with “normal” peers, trying to remember that everyone is different and faces their own challenges.

“I encourage anyone working towards a goal to focus on the simplest positives, and use your strengths (old, new, small, and large) as momentum.”

After I get my master’s degree in 2 years, I plan to continue my studies in developmental neuroscience to earn a PhD. My goal is to get a faculty position at a major research institution. This would give me the freedom to research topics that are important to me, such as the effects of risk and resilience on child development. I also look forward to mentoring students who come from tumultuous circumstances, because I felt so alone when I was young. Helping even one person feel less isolated would make a world of difference to me.

 

As far as my personal life with family, friends, and relationships, I find myself with a different perspective than the average person. It takes me extra time to trust people, which is completely okay, and I have a small group of friends. People usually remark on my independence. I have done my best to simplify my life, allowing in only positive, good people and situations whenever possible.

Jade and Dan
Jade and Dan

 

It would be dishonest not to mention the support, grace, and generosity my fiancé has given me these past three years. Just as misguidance has affected me in negative ways, Dan’s influence has allowed me to grow into an open, honest and confident woman – something I never knew was possible! In learning to surround myself with like-minded, goal-driven people, I met my best friend, the greatest person in the world, and I’m grateful for his support.

 

My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Richards, and my 10th grade Humanities teacher, Mr. Coulsby, truly saved my life. I have never been able to thank them properly, so I plan to respect their legacy by being a role model for struggling kids and students whom I encounter. They encouraged me to continue through life with the curiosity of a child and the wisdom that only comes from early tragedy. They taught me that I was not alone and I was worthy, which were very important lessons for me as a young person.

 

While I went through the hardest times in my life, I hadn’t understood my strength. I always concentrated on my shortcomings and weaknesses. Now that I am older, my role model is myself – as a child! I finally understand the power of a resilient young person, which has been the inspiration for my research focus in psychological development. I encourage anyone working towards a goal to focus on the simplest positives, and use your strengths (old, new, small, and large) as momentum.

Prosthetics Didn’t Stop Him: Alex Montoya’s 5 Must-Do’s to Live Your Dreams

Alex-Montoya-2012At age four, shortly after Alex Montoya moved to the United States, he knew he wanted to work for the San Diego Padres.

Except Alex was born without arms or a right leg.

Born in Medellin, Columbia, the doctor told his mother and father not to expect much from their son because his abilities would be limited. Lucky for Alex, his folks were people of faith and a fighting spirit. They were determined their boy would do his best with what God gave him. Still, they had to admit to him that becoming a professional baseball player with a set of prosthetic limbs seemed a bit out of reach.

Alex tells a story of being in kindergarten and wanting to climb the monkey bars on the playground at recess. Half of his friends told him he was crazy, that it was too dangerous. The other half said that if he fell, they’d laugh, but if he really wanted to do it, they’d help him get to the top. (He was popular even back then. If you knew him, you’d know why.)

So Alex used his hook-hands for balance and struggled his way up the monkey bars while his friends cheered him on – until the bell rang. The other five-year-olds went back to class about the same time Alex realized getting down would be even harder than going up. Thankfully, his teacher came and rescued him from a precarious position that suspiciously felt like the verge of a fall.

But that day, Alex made a decision: If he could climb the monkey bars with his prosthetic arms and leg,

Alex would find a way to work in baseball when he grew up, the thing he loved most.

As soon as Alex could sound out words, he started reading the sports page in the newspaper. Before long, he noticed lots of people work behind the scenes at a ballpark: journalists, commentators, statisticians, coaches, and trainers. Who knew all the positions somebody with a passion for the game could do to have a career in professional baseball?

“It takes a lot more than a team of players to make a baseball season,” Alex says.

“And I was going to work for the alex_montoyaPadres.”

Alex attended the University of Notre Dame where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications with a minor in Theater. From there, he went on to the University of San Francisco where he got a Master’s degree in Sports Management. It was time to pursue his intention all along.

Alex would begin his career in professional baseball.

Except when he moved to San Diego, California to work for the Padres, there weren’t any entry-level positions available. After the initial disappointment, he took a job for minimum wage at Petco Park as an usher, seating fans before the games. Alex made a point of getting to know the trainers, public relations people, business administrators, members of the press, and grounds keepers.

Every day, he would tell at least one supervisor: “Someday, I’m going to work for you.”

While working as an usher, he applied for three other jobs he didn’t get. Finally, the Director of Latino Affairs, a Hispanic outreach position, became available in the Public Relations Department. This was the perfect position for Alex Montoya, the kid who always knew he’d, one day, have a career in baseball, working for the San Diego Padres.

Nine years later, Alex has given lots of motivational speeches about setting intentions and reaching goals.

If you’d like to know more, check out his books.

AlexMontoya4web-192x300 download

 

http://www.amazon.com/Swinging-Fences-Alex-Montoya/dp/1604627352

 

http://www.amazon.com/The-Finish-Line-Alex-                              Montoya/dp/1622950682

 

 

 

 

You can also follow Alex’s motivational blog posts and quotes on his website: AlexMontoya.org: You Can Do Anything!

Alex’s FIVE Must-Do’s to Reach Your Goals:

  1. Don’t ever be afraid to try something new. If it doesn’t work out, so what? You’ll always learn something you didn’t know before, and if it does, you will open doors you never knew existed.
  2. Have a dream. It may or may not change along the way (I didn’t become a pro baseball player), but it will give you direction.
  3. Make a plan. Give yourself goals and benchmarks to keep you on track.
  4. Sometimes you’ll feel alone, but you’re never alone. Reach out. There are always people who will be there to prop you up, and you’ll be there to keep others on their path, too.
  5. And most important: NEVER GIVE UP.

 

We’d love to hear about your goals and dreams, new or old. Have you gotten stuck along the way? What obstacles have you encountered? What helps (or has helped) you to get back on track and keep going?

Eric Jenkins Leaves the Neighborhood and Finds Something Better

Eric Jenkins
Eric Jenkins

My name is Eric Jenkins, the son of the deceased Velma Jenkins and some other unknown person. The oldest of five kids, I was born in Pineville, Louisiana on November 1, 1983 (the Day of the Dead).  Like most families in my neighborhood, we grew up scraping by, and my mom did everything she could to keep food on the table. One of my best memories is riding around the yard at our first house on my red-pedaled tractor in my red suspenders. Red toy TractorBut we never stayed in one place for more than 5 years. We moved around a lot and sometimes lived with family members.

The small town where I grew up was one of those everybody-knows-you types, stuck-in-time and slow. My mom had several boyfriends who were abusive, both physically and verbally. Of all the men in her life, there is one, in particular, who I remember because he tried to kill her. I remember that night in vivid detail. It’s impossible to forget. During my childhood I saw a lot of other bad things, too.

At age 10 or 11, I saw an aunt, now deceased, sitting in a pool of her own blood in the bathtub because her boyfriend stabbed her. Aside from the bad stuff, though, I was a typical kid.cp_basketball1

Well, maybe I wasn’t typical for my neighborhood. Even in elementary school, a lot of kids talked about sex, tried to act tough, and they got into fights. But me? I spent most of my days on the basketball court. Every year for Christmas, I asked for the same thing: a new basketball.

Though my two younger brothers and two sisters still live in Louisiana, when I graduated from high school, I enlisted in the United States Navy. After four years of active duty, including two deployments, I became a reservist and have been with the U.S. military for almost 11 years. I settled in California, and currently, I go the Art Institute in San Diego where I am working towards my Bachelor’s degree in graphic design.

One obstacle that I faced in my education was math. I swear it is by far my toughest and most hated subject. In third grade, when we were learning to multiply, I couldn’t remember my times-tables, so I sat at home and wrote them over and over until they finally stuck. That experience taught me the best way to understand any subject that gives me trouble is to practice as much as possible, which has helped me even recently.

A logo Eric created for Hummingbird Flowers and Gifts
A logo Eric created for Hummingbird Flowers and Gifts

At the Art Institute, all the new software had clicked in my brain instantaneously, so I assumed I would pick up Adobe Illustrator as easily as I had the others. If ever there was a time I’d been wrong about something, this was it. I just did not get it. I took notes in every class, which didn’t help at all. By mid-terms, I was failing the class, but no way would I let that happen. I downloaded a free trial of the software on my home computer since I couldn’t afford to buy the full version. All of my time, outside of going to school and completing assignments, went into teaching myself, and by the end of the class, I passed with a B. The hard work paid off, and now I use Adobe Illustrator almost every day. It’s one of my favorite programs to use.

My goal as a graphic artist is to, one day, have my own design firm. Until I get to that point, I would love to work in the design department for Eric Jenkins - charity raceStarbucks, Hallmark, or Scion racing, but I’d also be happy to start with a smaller company. I have already completed a few design jobs for non-profit charities on my own, and at the moment, I am working in an internship with a great design firm in Encinitas (North County San Diego). A program that assists veterans in finding jobs and internships helped me to get the position, and I’ve gotten to create materials for several of their clients. After getting my degree in graphic design, I would like to explore Interior design as well.

I spend a lot of time on my computer working on designs and conducting brand research, but I try to plan my schedule so that I have time to spend with my wife, Elizabeth. She supports my goals, encourages me, and understands how hard I work to hone my skills. As for my brothers and sisters, though we’re in different time zones, I try to talk to them on the phone as much as possible.

My mom has been a major influence in my life. She did everything she could to provide for us and seldom did anything for herself. She was always willing to help anyone who needed it, and I think I get my sense of volunteerism from her. Sadly, in my early twenties, when my siblings were still in their teens, we lost her due to a stroke. Mom was only 43.

Another inspiration for me has been my cousin, Tina. She had a childhood similar to mine, but she managed to earn her bachelor’s degree and then a master’s. Currently, she’s a professor at a school in Atlanta. Her determination to make something better of herself was incredible. I saw a lot of my friends do nothing after high school. Some of them got jobs but others literally did nothing with their lives. I’m making more of myself, like Tina, and I want the same for my brothers and sisters.

One of my teachers at the Art Institute told the story of how he designed a piece for a client that was so powerful, it made her cry. The client said the image he created reminded her of her childhood home. When one of my designs has an effect on a client that strong, then I will know my skills have truly gotten where I want them to be. Maybe I can touch someone the way the artwork included in Charles Dickens’s amazing literary works has affected me as I read his stories growing up.

Advice I would give to someone working toward their goals:

  • Take a chance and get out of your comfort zone because you never know what you can do until push yourself to find out.

 

-And-

 

  • Your goal may morph along the way, but stick with it. At times it may seem like a losing battle, but when you finally succeed, you’ll look back and be glad you didn’t give up.

 

If you would like to see more samples of my work, you can go to this link. www.behance.net/fiveEYEmedia

One Mom’s Ultimate Example

Margarita Jimenez
Margarita Jimenez

Margarita Jimenez’s father unexpectedly passed away when she was eleven years old. Her mother and three older siblings wondered how they would survive in Torreón, a desert city in Coahuila, México. Margarita remembers her own grief, but more vivid is the pain and fear of those around her. She had always known money was tight, but without her father to provide for them, soon bills went unpaid and food became scarce.

 

Sadly, the wages her brothers procured from part-time jobs, while they attended the local university, couldn’t meet expenses. Her mother forbade the boys to quit school to work more hours. It had been a point of pride for their father, a humble handy man, that their sons would earn college degrees. A few months after their father’s death, Margarita’s 18-year-old sister resolved to go to the United States, determined to find work and send home money.

 

As an undocumented immigrant to the U.S., Margarita’s sister encountered obstacles which sometimes put her life in jeopardy. Earning enough to support herself as well as provide for her family in Mexico became overwhelming. Margarita’s mother couldn’t bear the burden she had become to her children any longer. The 42-year-old widow packed up Margarita and migrated to the United States to find work cooking and cleaning, two skills she’d spent decades honing while raising a large family.

 

Arriving in San Diego was so alien that Margarita’s first eleven years in Mexico seemed a distant memory. Nonsensical sounds came out of people’s mouths. No matter how their voices grew louder or they repeated themselves, she couldn’t figure out what they tried to tell her. The other kids had alternatively lighter or darker skin and eyes than her friends in Coahuila. She encountered cultures, religions and lifestyles she didn’t understand.

 

In time, Margarita made friends. She learned to communicate in English and became accustomed to living in the United States. She discovered, though, that after she completed middle and high school, as an undocumented student, she wouldn’t be able to afford to attend college, the way her brothers had in Mexico. No way could her mother scrape together enough money to pay the much higher tuition for non-resident students on a housekeeper’s wages.

 

After high school, Margarita took a job at a delicatessen. She worked extra shifts, countless hours, to earn as much money as possible. One day, she would reach her dream of going to college to get a degree in Business Administration.

 

 

By the time she was 20 years old, she obtained her legal residency in the U.S., but by then, she had married her husband, David, and delivered her daughter, Samantha. She continued working as her family grew; her son, David Junior, was born two years later, and in four more years, Karla arrived. It seemed Margarita would have to give up her dream to pursue higher education. With a family of five, she had to work to help with household expenses.

 

David, Jr.; David, Sr; Margarita, Samantha, Karla
David, Jr.; David, Sr; Margarita, Samantha, Karla

Then fifteen years after high school, with encouragement from her husband, Margarita decided to go back to school. In 2010, she enrolled in classes at the University of Phoenix to earn her Bachelor’s of Science degree in Business. She juggled school, work, and family, and more than once, she wondered if she could keep up the frenetic pace. Her husband helped in every way possible; picking up kids from school, taking them to soccer games and practices. He also took over his uncle’s landscaping business on weekends to make extra money, so she could work fewer hours. Their children were understanding when she had to cancel or opt out of family gatherings to complete assignments.

 

Although going to school, studying, writing essays in her second language, cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, doing laundry, and trying to meet her children’s needs left little time for sleep, Margarita’s family was her motivation for finishing her classes and earning her degree. She wanted to show her children the importance of getting a college education by being their example. Along the way, she changed her major and received her Bachelors of Science degree in Finance in July, 2014.

 

“That day I will never forget, seeing my family cheering for me [at the graduation ceremony],” Margarita said. “They were proud of my accomplishment.”

Margarita graduation

Margarita credits her tenacity to her hard-working mother and supportive husband. Her mom modeled how to be a strong woman, to appreciate every blessing in life, and to never give up. David senior’s optimism, belief in her, and his commitment to their family got Margarita through those times when the finish line, holding that college degree in her hand, seemed too far to reach.

 

 

Since graduation last June, Margarita received a raise at the accounting firm where she works. The most satisfying accomplishment, though, is the light she sees in her children’s eyes. The kids have historically done well in school, but now they have witnessed, first hand, how goals and dreams can come true.

 

“Regardless of how old you are or your background, everyone deserves to be successful in life,” Margarita points out. “Challenges may [arise]…but don’t give up…obstacles only make us stronger.”

An Artist with a Samurai Spirit: Composer, Playwright, Eric Scot Frydler

Eric Scot Frydler
Eric Scot Frydler

Contrary to common belief, children diagnosed with autism can grow up to lead fulfilling, successful lives. Composer, playwright, Eric Scot Frydler proves that life’s challenges can cripple us or make us stronger.

Diagnosed with autism as a child, when little was known about the neurological disorder, Frydler had trouble relating to peers. His teachers described him as an “enigma” and a “non-conformist.” At age five, however, he made a beautiful discovery: music spoke to him. Music became his way to express himself as well as connect with others.

Originally from Queens, New York, as a teenager, Frydler publicly played a song he had written on piano. Although impressed with Frydler’s performance, Lazlo Halasz, composer and founder of the New York City Opera, could see the boy didn’t fit the mold for the usual music school. Instead, Halasz invited Frydler to audit masters’ classes. Throughout his high school years, Frydler soaked up advanced music language at Stony Brook and Julliard, two colleges well-known for their excellence. This unconventional education prepared Frydler for composing music professionally.

Frydler’s can-do spirit and creative view of the world presented unexpected paths. In his late twenties, after a project for composing music fell through in Los Angeles, he answered an advertisement that read: “Child Genius Wanted” – to design toys for Mattel.  He got the job and developed Roboto, a transparent robot, part of the Masters of the Universe series. He also wrote stories and comic books about toys like He-Man, Popples, and Rainbow Brite. His name still appears on the Advanced Concepts Inventors list for both Hasbro and Mattel.

However, Frydler has found success in pursuing what he loves most: theater and music.

 “To this day,” he says in describing his creative process, “when I am envisioning and imagining, I go to that world inside my head, tempered by the craft I’ve acquired as a writer and composer.”

Frydler won the Aubrey Award, the equivalent to the Tony Awards for San Diego County Theater, for producing Dracula with Rosemary

Scene from Magical Forest
Scene from Magical Forest
Magical Forest
Magical Forest

Harrison, and he composed the original score. Magical Forest, performed at the Coronado Playhouse, is a musical he wrote that emphasizes belief in oneself and conservation. He has also composed music for film including: Sheriff of Contention, a western; Vampyre, a music video; Sweet Amazon, a documentary, and The Last Supper, a film which aired on Trinity Broadcasting. Currently, he is the Producing Artistic Director  at Carbon Based Life Theater in Carlsbad, California.

“People have had difficulties throughout history dealing with exceptional people . . .” Frydler points out. “Our challenge as a society is to find a way to communicate with them, not ostracize them . . . but to interact with them and benefit from each other.”

Throughout the years, Frydler believes his music has been an advantage in helping him to learn how to communicate with others. In fact, he swears he won his wife’s heart playing an original piece called “In Dreams” for her on a grand piano at the Wyndham Hotel at Emerald Plaza in San Diego. When asked about his success in the face of autism,

“Hideo Sakata, a Japanese martial artist, once told me I have Samurai spirit,” Frydler says. “I never give up. Never!”

“Many people accept other people’s self-limiting beliefs, and that is a mistake. You have to be true to yourself, to be fearless.” Frydler advises. “Never let someone else interfere with what you’re here to do.”

Hey, that’s good advice for all of us!

Small Town Girl Makes a Big City Difference

Elizabeth Escobar
Elizabeth Escobar

Born in El Centro, California to a 17-year-old mother and a father who was barely 21, Elizabeth Escobar’s parents were too young to know themselves, much less take care of a small child. Due to her dad’s quick temper, Elizabeth witnessed a great deal of domestic violence, though she spent considerable time with her paternal grandparents. When she became old enough to go to kindergarten, school became her refuge. Learning new things excited Elizabeth and provided distraction from her harsh reality at home.

 

Then in first grade, a boy started tormenting her, constantly calling her names because she was chubby. In second grade, the bully’s taunting became worse when her teacher berated Elizabeth in front of the class for not being able to make it across the monkey bars. That same teacher continued to chide her publically in the fourth grade, stripping the little self-esteem Elizabeth had managed to hold onto. Her mom visited the school to talk to the teacher several times, but the woman refused to stop forcing Elizabeth to hang from the bars until she fell off, all the while scolding her for not being able to grasp the next rung (after decades of mistreating children, this teacher is finally under investigation, according to an aunt who still lives in El Centro).

 

During this time, Elizabeth walked into the kitchen to get something to drink, just as her father flew into one of his rages. He backhanded her in the face, giving her a bloody nose that took what seemed like hours for her and her mother to quell. She remembers her mom crying, holding towels soaked in blood. The incident gave her mother the strength and resolve to leave her dad.

 

At age nine, Elizabeth moved into her maternal grandparents’ house in a smaller town. The first week at her new K-8 public school, a girl with a reputation for picking on people chose Elizabeth for her next target. Elizabeth couldn’t believe she’d captured the attention of yet another bully. At the end of the day, the girl and her group of minions stared at Elizabeth walking toward them from outside the school gates. Elizabeth knew the smirks on their faces meant trouble, so she turned around and headed back to her classroom. As she was about to escape inside the door, the bully caught up and punched Elizabeth in the back. Her new fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Murua, heard the commotion and took off to find the attacker. The occasional grumbles from other kids, accusing Elizabeth of “snitching,” had been worth being left alone from that day forward.

 

Elizabeth flourished after that rocky beginning. She met some of her all-time favorite teachers at that neighborhood school.

 

“Mrs. Mura protected, mentored, and saw something in me. She…was my angel…who changed my life…followed by Mr. Galindo, Mr. Colunga, and Mr. Lozano,” Elizabeth recalls. “Thank God I had teachers who looked out for me!”

 

Elizabeth graduated from the eighth grade as the class valedictorian.

 

In the meantime, her dad got help to learn to control his anger, so her parents got back together, and her home life improved. Her mom went back to school to become a licensed vocational nurse (LVN), and her dad enrolled in the Correctional Officer’s Academy.

  “What I went through during my childhood made me realize…an education was so important because no one could take that away from me,” Elizabeth explains. “It was the only way I could become independent.”

 

Elizabeth did well in high school and attended the local community college. She held two jobs to support herself and to pay for classes, since her parents didn’t have the means to contribute financially. At one of her jobs at a fast food restaurant, her sociology professor used to show up and sit at a table near where she’d be cleaning. “You are too good for this,” he would tell her. “You need to leave the [Imperial] valley.”

 

In three years, Elizabeth earned an Associate of Arts degree with honors and had decided to take her professor’s advice. Although the Criminal Justice department at San Diego State University (SDSU) was severely impacted, she applied anyway – and she got accepted to the program!

 

She attended SDSU part time and worked full time until she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice in 2004. During her senior year, she completed an internship with the County of San Diego Public Defender’s Office, where she works today.

 

Elizabeth with her Hermanita, Erika
Elizabeth with her Hermanita, Erika

In the Public Defender’s office, Elizabeth had mentioned her desire to help kids, especially girls, “not to get caught up in the system.” One of her co-workers saw an ad in the Union Tribune asking for mentors to participate in the Hermanitas® (Little Sisters) program in 2006, an affiliate of MANA, a nationwide Latina organization.

 

That was almost eight years ago.

 

Since then, Elizabeth has been mentor for up to three young Latinas at a time.

This year, Erika, Elizabeth’s Hermanita since sixth grade, will graduate from high school, so the two of them are busily planning SAT dates,

Elizabeth and Erika on the field at Petco Park
Elizabeth and Erika on the field at Petco Park

revising Erika’s personal statement to apply for colleges, and making lists of possibilities for the institution where Erika will begin her next education adventure a year from now.

 

And Elizabeth has become the Director for Hermanitas®, determined to give as many girls as possible the tools and support to succeed in today’s world.

 

Elizabeth has powered through adversity and found dreams were attainable if she stayed focused and moved through her fears. Along the way, mentors helped her to create a path for her future. They provided advice, and most of all, they believed in her. Now Elizabeth returns that support and love to others, so they, too, will find themselves living successful, fulfilling lives.

 

We’d love to hear from you! If you or someone you know has a story of success through grit and determination, or you have something to say about our small town girl who touches more lives than she’d ever imagined, please write a comment below, and share this with your friends. J